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Governor: State's tracking of protesters 'absolutely ludicrous'

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Pennsylvania governor says protesting is an American right
  • Rendell says he learned recently that the state homeland security office was compiling the information
  • Protesters tracked include those at rallies against the oil company BP

(CNN) -- Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says he is appalled that the state's Office of Homeland Security, unbeknownst to him, had been compiling and circulating information about protesters at peaceful gatherings.

Banging his fist on the podium Tuesday evening, a visibly angry Rendell called the practice "absolutely ludicrous."

"Let me make this as clear as I can make it. Protesting against an idea, a principle, a process, is not a real threat against infrastructure," he said at a news conference. "Protesting is a God-given American right, a right that is in our Constitution, a right that is fundamental to all we believe in as Americans."

The governor said he only recently learned that the state homeland security office had been paying a Pennsylvania firm to compile lists of rallies -- which were then passed to law enforcement agencies and other entities as possible security threats. The contract cost the state $125,000 and will not be renewed, he said.

"Good Lord, and to think that we spent $125,000 on this at a time when every penny is dire for us is a further embarrassment," he said.

Among the rallies that were mentioned in the lists were a candle light vigil against the oil company BP, a gay pride festival and protests against natural gas drilling.

"I apologize to the Marcellus Shale protesters. I apologize to the taxpayers protesters. I apologize to the lesbian and gay Pride Festival. I apologize to every single name that was on the list," Rendell said.

Another event whose protesters made the list was a rally in support of higher spending on public schools.

"Supporting my education bill? That was on the list," he said incredulously.

He, however, said he will not be disciplining anyone at the Homeland Security office.

That didn't sit well with some of those who attended the rallies that were monitored.

"We're ordinary citizens. We're not terrorists. They should be watching the terrorists. That's their job and we pay them to do that, not to watch us," Michelle Boice told CNN affiliate WBRE.

"It's not good enough, we need more than an apology, we need an investigation."